In today's modern world, couples often discuss marriage together, coming to a mutual agreement rather than a formal proposal. Asking for a bride's hand in marriage, which typically means formally asking her father for permission to marry, is an old-fashioned tradition that is rarely followed nowadays. Still, there are many who do choose to follow this custom.

How It All Started

The tradition of asking for the bride's hand in marriage dates back at least to ancient Rome. Back then, the prospective groom would ask the bride's father for permission to marry her, at which point he would hand the father a symbolic coin. In return, the father would take the hand of his daughter and place it in the groom's hand, symbolizing his approval of the upcoming marriage.

Why You Should Ask

Asking permission to marry can set the stage for a wonderful relationship between you and the bride's parents. Asking the bride's father for her hand in marriage shows respect. It shows her parents that you love their daughter enough to go through the possible discomfort of asking for her hand. It also gives you -- and the bride's father -- the opportunity to have a meaningful conversation about love, family and future plans.

Ask Your Girlfriend First

First, talk to your girlfriend. Obviously, you want to be sure she is ready for this next step. She should be the first to know that you have marriage in mind. It's also important to find out what kind of relationship she has with her father. Maybe he has been absent from her life for a long time, or maybe she is closer to her stepfather. Perhaps she is just very uncomfortable with the idea of you asking her father for her hand in marriage -- after all, although the act is symbolic, it does have sexist undertones. Make sure your girlfriend is completely comfortable with the idea before you ask to meet with her father.

Ask Her Father

Hopefully, you will have met her father at least a few times before this point. This will make you both feel a little more comfortable. If not, start with an introduction. Call her father, introduce yourself, and ask if you can meet for lunch or dinner. Don't simple show up at his office or home; this is impolite. If you can't meet in person, it's OK to ask for her hand in marriage over the phone, according to GQ.com, but a face-to-face conversation is ideal. Start by thanking her father for meeting you and tell him how much you cherish his daughter. Tell him that you want to spend the rest of your life with her and that you will devote yourself to caring for her for the rest of your life. Then, respectfully ask for his permission to marry his daughter or, if you are more comfortable with different wording, for his blessing on your marriage.